When you’re busy, doesn’t the time just seem to race by? December already, and another 12 issues come and gone. It’s been a busy year for us here at CONTRACTOR and, we hope, a busy and successful year for our readers.
Looking back at 2023 one of the best things to happen was something that didn’t happen. The early months of the year saw everyone predicting a recession caused by rising interest rates. It looked like we were following the same pattern from the late ‘70s-early ‘80s when the Fed essentially engineered two recessions in its fight against inflation; the only real questions were how soon, how bad, and how long would it last.
And then… it didn’t happen. The economy kept chugging right along thanks mainly to the US consumer who, despite all the headwinds, kept spending (although that spending, according to data from the National Retail Federation, seems to be shifting from goods to services). The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics have inflation at 3.24%—a big improvement from 7.75% this time last year.
Another one of the best things to happen this year was that money from federal infrastructure projects (the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act) started to make its way into the economy. But there was a gray cloud to this silver lining. In October, Associated Builders and Contractor’s Construction Backlog Indicator reported an increase for larger contractors, but a sharp downturn for smaller contractors.
“While larger contractors continue to disproportionately benefit from a bevy of megaprojects around the nation, many smaller contractors are feeling the sting of weaker economic fundamentals in struggling commercial real estate segments,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu.
For better or worse, one of the biggest news stories from the past year has been the sudden arrival of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace via large natural language models such as Chat GPT. No, the robots aren’t about to drive the trucks or turn the wrenches (yet), but they can produce schedules, checklists and customer service scripts in a fraction of the time it would take a human. It’s fair to say we have only scratched the surface of what AI can do to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability—and only had the briefest glimpse of how it may disrupt our economy.
One of the worst things to happen this year was a new set of proposed regulations from the Department of Energy on consumer water heaters. To be fair, the end goal—the reduction of carbon emissions—is a worthy one, but the industry consensus seems to be that the regulations push things too far, too fast.
To wind up on a positive note, I think the best thing I’ve seen this year has been the willingness of people in this industry to give back—both to the industry itself and to the people around them.
I can’t count the number of stories I’ve published in 2023 that fit that description. In our December issue alone our lead cover story was on the PHCC’s Plumbing Contractor of the Year, the Bertolino brothers. In addition to being outstanding plumbers and businessmen, the brothers have done a lot to support community programs and the PHCC’s apprenticeship programs.
Another year-end story is about Kevin Tindall, recipient of this year’s Col. George D. Scott Award. Over the course of his career Tindall has been tireless in his efforts as a mentor and educator, and selfless with his time volunteering with the PHCC’s National Association and with his local chapter in New Jersey.
It’s stuff like this that makes me proud to have the plumbing & heating industry be my beat. I wish all our readers a happy, healthy holidays. We’ll see you in 2024 for CONTRACTOR Magazine’s 70th Anniversary year.